One thing I’ve learned about government as a businessman in Detroit is that politicians are only interested in things that are big. Big projects, big corporations, big businessmen, big headlines, big grants, big subsidies.
Yesterday, Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick granted a big stay of execution for Tiger Stadium to Ernie Harwell in his attempt to save a portion of the ball park. While Mr. Harwell’s name is big, his initial financial backing was small. Now he may have the big federal treasury on his side and Mayor Kilpatrick suddenly had a big change of heart.
Rumor has it that Michigan Senator Carl Levin (D) has been secretly lobbying politicians and business leaders in an effort to save some remnants of The Corner. Apparently, he even used his time at the annual Mackinac Conference of Big Wigs to make his pitch for stadium preservation.
Word is that Levin is attempting to arrange a big subsidy to the tune of $15 million conveniently buried as an earmark in an appropriations bill in the 2009 federal budget. Now that is something even Mayor Kilpatrick can understand. Now Hizhonor is saying things like, “history should have a chance.” Funny how history didn’t matter $15 million ago.
I have met Senator Levin in the past and I know him to be an honorable man. I also know that his love for Tiger Stadium is real and that he has been trying, in his own way, to preserve Detroit’s fabled baseball grounds for many years. Now the senior Senator is in a position to do so by speaking the language of the locals: by spending big taxpayer money.
The solution to this problem is so simple (but small) it is impossible for politicians to understand. Tiger Stadium should have been auctioned off to the highest bidder nine years ago. There is no reason on earth why Tiger Stadium should be publicly owned or subsidized. It holds enough historical value to be turned into a money-making enterprise — if only the politicians and bureaucrats would get out of the way.
In Detroit the political message is simple: you better be big and think big — or don’t bother being or thinking at all.